The corporate auditorium might be the single largest space many companies have, yet it’s often the least understood technically and the most overlooked when it comes to budget. Yet, when it’s time to use it, it can be an intimidating cavern, one usually lacking an obvious on/off switch.
Ask The Right Questions
When it comes to planning the AV for an auditorium, “You always have to start by asking the right questions,” observed Omar Prashad, General Manager of Systems Integration at Toronto-based AV integrator Advanced (advanced-inc.com). The use case has to be laid out in as much detail as possible, including the number of people who might use the facility at any one time and the various groups that will use it. This is especially true in the case of a medical facility, such as at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores), where 1200 staffers perform treatment, research and education for patients with complex mental illnesses, and where Advanced installed a sizable amount of AV equipment. There were some very specialized questions, as well.
According to Prashad, a critical first question that has to be asked of a medical facility is, “Is the video in the auditorium being used for case review or diagnostics?” He added, “If it’s being used to look at some CT or MRI imaging for review or educational purposes, that’s one thing, but if it’s being used to diagnose an illness, the grayscale of the picture, as well as the native resolution, has to be orders of magnitude greater.” Diagnostic-quality video costs as much as five times that of less-critical imaging, although both will be at least 1080i.
Ontario Shores’ imaging would be used for educational and review purposes, but it still required a large image, one that would require two edge-blended projectors. And, even if the imaging isn’t being used for diagnostic applications, medical uses still require a lot of nuance when it comes to color. For that reason, Advanced’s design team specified the use of third-party edge-blend software, in this case a tvONE edge-blending module and DVI-I scaler.
“The challenge of getting the blend to look good enough is in the colors, and especially the lighter colors; that’s where you’re going to see the seams,” Prashad explained. He’s reluctant to use projector manufacturers’ own edge-blending software because, he feels, it’s not necessarily their strong suit. “The color temperature and consistency is off by as much as 30%,” he said. “I think you’re always better off going with third-party software to achieve a good edge blend.”
The scaler choice is also important, Prashad said, because of the varied sources of imaging content in medical environments. For instance, some of Ontario Shores’ imaging content will come through the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) and use PACS (Picture Archiving and Communication System) file storage software. “If PACS puts out a 3K image and the display is 1080i, the scaler is going to have to resolve the difference,” he said. The problem can be complex enough that it warrants two scaler solutions, in this case the tvONE DVI-I scaler on the input side of the video signal flow and a Crestron HD video scaler on the display side.
Video Is A Tight fit
Getting the projectors positioned for this auditorium was also a tight fit. Rear projection was preferred because it would allow a presenter on stage to move around in front of the picture and point out specific areas of attention. But the space behind the newly installed 74-inch-high, 196½-inch-wide Draper IRUS screen was just barely sufficient to avoid requiring use of a floor-mounted mirror system. Instead, the two 7000 lumen NEC projectors were mounted firing directly at the back of the screen, which helped keep brightness and color optimized. “If there was 10 feet from the wall to the back of the screen, then we needed 9.9 feet of it to avoid using mirrors,” stressed Prashad.
(Prashad added that Advanced’s design team did recommend that Ontario Shores use a videowall for image projection. This would have also allowed presenters to work in front of the screen and, more importantly, would have futureproofed the installation, allowing it to move into 4K video when the time came, as well as allowing multiple, simultaneous sources of content. However, the countering arguments, focused on budget and on the fact that even the narrower bezels between tiles possible these days are enough to cause potential distortion problems for highly precise medical images, wound up prevailing.)
The projection system, however, does have advanced capabilities, in the form of onscreen annotation through a SMART Podium 518 interactive pen display, which doubles as a confidence monitor integrated into the podium, coupled with SMART meeting pro software.
The Ontario Shores auditorium seats about 130 but, as with most corporate assembly venues, it’s rarely used to capacity. Although equipment vendors may draw a crowd as they use the AV system to demonstrate a new product, groups as small as a dozen may fill just the first row for close-up looks at medical imaging.
“What you don’t want is for it to sound like someone standing midcourt at Madison Square Garden,” said Prashad. The solution was to establish zones for the six Shure microphones that hang from the auditorium’s ceiling (these were repurposed from the previous iteration of the auditorium) and the 12 TOA PC in-ceiling speakers (a 12-inch TOA woofer is also installed, to add some dimension to the spoken word), all powered by a four-channel TOA DA-500 amplifier. “If all of the microphones or speakers are on at the same time, it can be disconcerting when there’s only a few people in the room,” he said. A left-right set of speakers flanking the stage was considered, but the idea was ultimately discarded as disruptive of the auditorium’s aesthetics.
Two Biamp Nexia CS systems are used to manage the zones and the podium audio, as well as provide DSP, such as equalization for the entire audio system. It’s also set up to provide a mix-minus for users of the Shure handheld wireless microphone (also part of the auditorium’s original AV complement) that’s available, to avoid feedback.
These are connected on a CobraNet network; Prashad said that this was one of their last installation projects to use that particular audio networking system, with Audinate’s Dante now the preferred networking protocol. “However, CobraNet is still a very robust format, especially for internal communications as they are using it here,” he said. “And it’s easy to add a third processor if they find they need another later.” According to Prashad, there is no recording capability in the auditorium due to the legal exigencies of patient confidentiality.
At the very beginning of the project, when Prashad was polling Ontario Shores’ managers and doctors about what they were expecting from an AV-refreshed auditorium, he said that a consistent refrain was the demand for ease of use. He offered that the mandate was clearly, Make sure I can use the system! “That was the message,” said Prashad. “When you have big rooms and big systems, people can be afraid to push the buttons. And they don’t want to spend time on the phone with the help desk.”
The Crestron Pro2 control system was programmed by Advanced technicians to load a lot of activity onto single macro buttons. These, accessed through a Crestron TP6X wall-mounted touchpanel or wirelessly on an Apple iPad, are labeled clearly for specific applications, such as vendor presentations, or by name, for the needs of a particular doctor or teacher. The macros will turn on the appropriate systems and zones, and if necessary activate the Vaddio AutoTrak 2.0 PTZ camera, which will automatically track a presenter’s movements across the stage while he or she is wearing the system’s wireless lanyard.
The AV refresh of the Ontario Shores auditorium was a success, even if measured solely by the fact that control system programming gave its users the accessibility they wanted. It took what had been there (including a projector mounted on a cart) and brought it into the 21st century.
“Spaces like these are used by a lot of very smart people, but even the most advanced AV technology is wasted if they can’t use it,” said Prashad. “You have to figure out what they need, but you also have to figure out how to let them get at it easily.”